By Dr. Gilberto Sustache
Department of Family Practice
For older adults, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity is linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, some cancers, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help improve balance and strengthen your muscles so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.
Although we gradually lose some stamina and agility as we age, older adults can still enjoy a good workout that suits their exercise needs and interests. Even people with medical conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease can benefit from regular exercise. One of the greatest things about exercise is that it benefits not only people’s physical health but their mental health too. In addition, those who exercise regularly tend to have more energy, allowing them to enjoy a more active lifestyle as they age.
Here are some more important benefits of exercise:
Relieves Osteoarthritis Pain: Moving your joints more can help lessen the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Arthritis-friendly exercise includes low-impact cardiovascular activity (like walking or swimming) strength training (lifting weights), and range-of-motion exercises (such as toe curls and leg raises). These types of activities strengthen muscles and help to alleviate pressure around the joints. Physical activity is also believed to help ease inflammation in the joints and aid in lubrication, which works to reduce pain and stiffness.
Boosts Immunity: Exercise helps increase the circulation of immune cells within your body and also optimizes their function. This can help your body fight off many types of infections such as the common cold. This increase in immune cells has been shown to last up to three hours after a 45-minute walk, so even a moderate amount of exercise can help you stay healthy.
Aids in Prevention of Chronic Disease: Exercise is known to provide a protective effect against a host of chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. If you already have a chronic condition, exercise can help minimize symptoms. In addition, it can even help reduce cognitive decline. One study found that participants over the age of 60 showed fewer Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers when they performed 30 minutes of exercise every day.
Improves Mood: There’s no doubt that exercise makes people feel good. Regular exercise has been shown to ease anxiety and depression symptoms, increase relaxation, and create an overall sense of wellbeing. A 2019 study of adult men age 65 and older found that the mood-boosting benefits of exercise continue well into old age – underscoring why it’s so vital to stay active.
What are the best exercises for older adults?
Older adults should try to incorporate a blend of aerobic exercise, strength/resistance training, and stretching/flexibility exercises into their weekly routine for best results. There are many enjoyable workout options that can help improve your mobility, build strength, and enhance your balance and coordination. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before significantly increasing your physical activity level. Be sure to ask about the frequency and types of activities that are best for you.
- Yoga: More popular than ever, yoga is a low-impact activity that won’t strain your joints. It can also help build up your muscles, stabilize your core, improve your flexibility, and strengthen your bones. If you are new to yoga, try an introductory class in your area to master basic poses. Some yoga programs are specially designed for older adults and include seated and standing options.
- Pilates :A gentle form of exercise, Pilates focuses on building a strong core in order to improve balance and stability. Pilates has been shown to reduce the symptoms of chronic pain and arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease. Many of the exercises are performed in sitting or reclining positions. Pilates is an excellent option to try if you haven’t exercised in a long time.
- Aerobic exercise: The reason aerobic exercise is important is that it boosts cardiovascular function, strengthens lungs and airways, and improves everyday stamina. Walking, swimming, and using a stationary bike all provide excellent aerobic exercise for older adults. Thirty minutes a day of aerobic exercise is recommended. However, even shorter sessions of aerobic exercise spread out over the day is effective.
- Strength training: More and more seniors are realizing the benefits of strength training. A gym really isn’t necessary, there are many simple, low-impact bodyweight training exercises you can do at home to help reverse muscle loss and burn body fat. These include wall pushups, stair climbing, squats, and single-leg stands. Some strength-training routines also incorporate light hand weights (1 to 2 lbs.) or resistance bands. Two to three workouts a week will provide the most benefits. You can learn more about simple exercises using just a chair here.
Exercise is more fun with a friend
Having people to exercise with can be a great motivator. If you lack a fitness partner, a community-based program can be helpful in providing the social connection and motivation you may need to stick with an exercise program. Exercising in a group setting can also provide an added layer of safety for older adults who require more supervision during activity.
Check with your local senior center or Council on Aging to learn about exercise programs and classes offered near where you live. You can also find information on how to exercise on this CDC web page.
Put in the effort – it works!
Remember that the most important way to reap the benefits of exercise is to make it a regular part of your daily and weekly routine. Although exercise doesn’t require a prescription, it is one of the best ways to maintain and enhance your health!
About Gilberto Sustache, MD
For Dr. Gilberto Sustache, entering medicine was a natural choice. “When I was a child, the world of medicine was already an interest for me,” he explains. “I originally thought I might be a nurse or a physical therapist when I was younger. However, while I was an undergraduate at Brown, I was encouraged to follow my dreams and that put me on the road to becoming a doctor.”
Dr. Sustache says that in recent years helping...View profile View posts by this doctor